I’m always looking for new ways to encourage my students to read. If you’re a primary teacher, I know you do, too. I encourage students to read alone. To read with their teacher. To read to a classmate. To read to a big buddy. To read to their parents or siblings. The more you read, the better reader you will be, so it just makes sense.
Because our classroom is connected with so many people OUTSDE the four walls of our physical space, I have sometimes been able to find a pre-service teacher or someone else who is willing to listen to my students read via Skype. When this happens, I have the students choose a book ahead of time. Then, I just make a list of the students who will be reading, post it near the computer and make sure the first student is connected and ready to go. As each student finishes reading, she tells the next student on the list that it is her turn to read. I am free to work with other students while this “reading center” runs itself.
For a few years, I had wondered about the possibility of buddy reading via Skype with a peer rather than an adult. How could we make that work? Fortunately, Karen Lirenman in Surrey is as keen as I am to push the boundaries of what is possible in the classroom. For most of the last school year, we attempted to connect our classes around curriculum content four times every week. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we did buddy reading. Every Thursday, we played a game of “Guess my Number”.
Making Buddy Reading Work
First, Karen and I both made a list with our class of books that they especially liked and would like to be able to read with someone in another class. These lists were fairly long so that we had lots of chances to have books in common. The students chose a wide variety of books, including both fiction and nonfiction, both at their reading level and above it. Karen and I shared those list with each other and then, we had a Skype call to confirm which books we both had from the list. We chose a few popular books that the students had not mentioned as well to make up for the ones that one of us had but the other did not. Then we put the books in a special bucket so that they would be easily available when someone was going to read soon.
Next, we set up a Google document with a table. My students chose books the first time and Karen’s students chose someone to read with. When we’d been through all of the names, her class chose books and we fit our names in. You’ll see from the image that at first we thought it was important to put the grades of the students since we both had a grade one/two split grade classroom. We later stopped this, as it didn’t seem to matter and was not necessarily an indicator of reading proficiency.
We did buddy reading for about 15 minutes each time. Sometimes we would get through as many as three pairs of readers, and occasionally only one pair would finish their book, but generally a couple of pairs would have time to read.
I tried to give my students a heads up two or three days ahead of their chance to buddy read via Skype so that they could “practice” their book ahead of time. Because the books were in the special bucket, they were easily found.
Things We Learned
It’s important to be flexible Since Karen’s classrooms is a thousand miles almost straight east of mine, we are in different time zones. We could not both do reading buddies during the first period of the day. This was further complicated by the fact that my province does not change time, so when her class sprang ahead (and we were still in different time zones), we had to re-jig things. Karen and I also sometimes do things outside of our classroom, and when you add in special assemblies, field trips and the multitude of other things that frequently interrupt the school day you can see that we had to be willing to adapt when plans in one school changed.
The hallway really works best. Karen figured this out right away. In my classroom, I tried doing it without headphones and then with them, but ended up with the reading going on in the hallway. No headphones were needed and it was much quieter!
All of the students were eager to participate and did so well. We both had students that surprised us. No matter what behavioral or academic difficulties the students had, they all participated eagerly. We sometimes had a support buddy beside one or both students just in case their help was needed for any reason. Everyone stayed on task. Getting distracted did not seem to happen when the other student was on a screen instead of sitting beside them.
When students are engaged and reading, we know it leads to better readers. Would I do it with our students again next year? In a heartbeat.